How online communities can create a ‘connected campus’

Schools that implement online communities are becoming ‘connected campuses,’ which creates value at each stage of the student lifecycle

connected-campusThe social phenomenon is impacting every facet of higher education.

In an increasingly competitive market, forward-thinking colleges and universities are integrating social concepts and practices—including online communities—to redefine the admissions process, engage alumni more deeply, and transform the learning experience for both on-campus and remote students.

These efforts enhance the long-term value of student and alumni relationships with the institution.

What is an online community? An online community is an interactive, often gated website or part of a website that typically is owned by an organization—in this case, a college or university.

An online community leverages social software technologies (including blogs, forums, and groups) to enable interaction between people on topics of mutual interest and is commonly integrated with back-office systems. Online communities offer many opportunities to find, connect, interact, and engage students in building a relationship across the student lifecycle while driving measurable business value and tangible results.

The opportunity for higher education

In higher education, the student relationship lifecycle begins when a prospective student begins considering various institutions and applies for admission, and it continues through the learning experience, graduation, job seeking, and into their chosen profession. Today, this lifecycle is characterized as fragmented and largely unmanaged from a social perspective, which creates opportunities for colleges and universities to provide a cohesive student lifecycle community experience.

Currently, individuals are interacting from the perspective of two primary social personas: Personally Social and Professionally Social. Online communities give higher-education institutions the opportunity to bridge that gap and create a new persona: Academically Social.

(Next page: Understanding what each of these personas means—and how colleges can leverage them in their online efforts)



  • Personally Social: Personally social individuals are actively engaged in social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. They are connected to people like themselves and use social media to find, subscribe to, and connect to people and businesses in new ways. These users leverage community input for key decisions like selecting a university. The question arises: How can academic institutions embrace these same concepts and reach personally social users?
  • Professionally Social: Professionally social individuals tend to be alumni and/or adult learners who are active on professional networks like LinkedIn. They initially find jobs by leveraging their academic contacts and then build a professional network to develop additional business opportunities and advance their careers. This raises the question: How can academic institutions leverage their online presence to connect more deeply with professionally social users?
  • Academically Social: Academically social individuals are academic “customers” that freely share their opinions on courses, professors, and campus life. They are able to seek, join, and create communities and groups where none exist and influence the decisions of others. These users embrace social technologies to improve their education experience through an online community environment.

Academic institutions have an opportunity to demonstrate an understanding and ability to help students apply to college, enhance their learning experiencing during their time on campus, and ease their transition into the professional world—while also keeping them them engaged after graduation.

Value at each stage of the student lifecycle

Some higher-ed institutions are embracing a more holistic social business model to serve the “Academically Social” persona. These pioneering institutions are now engaging their students and stakeholders across the student lifecycle from recruitment and admissions, to active students and faculty, to alumni.

This provides an opportunity to create value at each stage of the student lifecycle:

  • Recruitment & Admissions: An online admissions community can increase applications from qualified students and boost conversion rates, reduce traditional media spending, engage influencers such as parents and counselors, enhance a school’s reputation, and streamline the enrollment process.
  • Active Students & Faculty: Communities can streamline the student onboarding experience, improve student satisfaction, and enable virtual study groups and peer support while crowdsourcing research and innovation.
  • Alumni: Alumni communities can improve engagement—which in turn increases donations and participation—while also boosting referrals, facilitating student mentoring, capturing success stories, and providing a platform for professional networking.

The ‘connected campus’

Colleges and universities that implement online communities are becoming “connected campuses,” regardless of their number of students or geographic reach. Students at a connected campus are well connected to their peers and faculty, course materials are interactive and can be shared between individuals and groups, study groups can take place across geographic boundaries, and all facets of the online community are easily accessed from a mobile device.

For more information on how online communities can create connected campuses, visit

James Davidson is vice president of digital and community strategy for 7Summits.